Community · Culture · Goal Setting · Literacy · Reading · Teaching

Never Stop Learning. Ever.

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Professional Development is my jam. It’s HARD to be a teacher who doesn’t want to learn, so I embrace the fact that I love teaching and I love learning, and thus I try to attend as many PD sessions as I possibly can–or until my principal says “ENOUGH!” (Luckily, she NEVER does that!!)

That being said, the Dublin Literacy Conference is one of the BEST, local PD sessions I have been to. At my previous school district, good PD was few and far between–even when it was required. School districts are not getting the funding they used to and if they are, funds are being used elsewhere instead of on educating their staff. I’m incredibly grateful that Dublin City Schools sees the value of quality professional development and brings in people worth listening to. Breakout sessions and big name authors are vetted by the Dublin Literacy Conference Committee to make sure topics are current, relevant, and what people want to hear from during their time away from home.

So, without further ado, there is my Top Ten List of AMAZING Takeaways from the 2019 Dublin Literacy Conference:

  1. Presenting at a conference is HARD and INTIMIDATING, but SOOOOOO worth it.

I did a breakout session with my PLC (Professional Learning Community) at the conference on reading conferences in my 8th grade language arts classroom. I’m not going to lie–presenting freaks me out. Being in front of adults is ridiculously different than being in front of students. What if I really don’t know what I’m talking about? What if someone calls me out on that? Regardless of all of the “What ifs?” my PLC and I took a risk and had a really amazing session. And our sessions opened up some opportunities for dialogue with other language arts teachers and how they are using reading conference strategies in their own classrooms!  

  1. Networking with other literacy teachers (of any subject or grade) is so rewarding and feeds my soul.

I love talking to people about the craft and art of teaching. Especially people who are willing to give up a Saturday of doing something non-school related. Those people are my people. I overheard laughter, strategizing, lesson planning, and many a discussion on texts to read next while I walked around the high school. I chatted with a woman from a bordering school district walking out of the building at the end of the day about what we both learned that day and it made me look up another presenter’s notes that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It’s refreshing to know that there are others out there who value education, learning, teaching, and facilitating as much as I do.

  1. Humility, Intimacy, and Gratitude need to be at the forefront of our minds when working with student readers (and I’ll argue writers as well).

Jason Reynolds’ “These Three Words” keynote gave me some pause. How often would we say we have humility in our classrooms. We’re supposed to be the experts, right? Reynolds says that in order to really get to know a student and what he/she likes to read, we need to get on their level and stop pushing books we know they will not successfully read. In connection with this, he also implored teachers to know our students’ reading lives intimately, which can help us find better texts for specific students in our classes. Finally, he asked us how many of us thanked our students for coming to class each day. So many times, our students have a choice to come and learn from us, not come to class, or even worse case scenario, drop out of school. We should be thanking them for coming through our door to learn.

  1. “Education is a favor, it is a gift, but students don’t see it like that.”

So, my response to Reynolds’ statement is, how do we make them see that education is a gift and a favor? In my years of experience, the closest answer I can get to is by giving students our time and attention. By being present and available while they are in the classroom.

  1. What’s your WHY for teaching?

Ahhh, the age old question. WHY are you a teacher? What’s your purpose in your job? I found myself coming back to this during Reynolds’ two talks that I attended because he was telling so many stories about teachers who were either making decisions for him or not opening doors of opportunity for him, but rather closing them. It made me sit back and think about why I wanted to become a teacher and if I still had that in mind 15 years later. And I do. I want students to be better when they leave my room than when they first stepped in it. I want them to read a variety of books and write a variety of different writings. This might have to be a future blog post! What’s YOUR why? 

  1. We need a schoolwide commitment to literacy.

Literacy is not just 5 days a week 7-8 hours a day while a student is in school. It’s EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR. ALL DAY. Literacy happens in the math classroom. Literacy happens in Physical Education. Literacy happens on breaks. Literacy happens over the summer. It’s not just happening in school. How can we make sure everyone is a part of literacy in our buildings?  

  1. Celebrate, Celebrate, Celebrate!

Literacy celebrations should be happening all the time in our classrooms. Now, I think the common misconception is that celebrations HAVE to have food and drinks and thus a fantastic mess for the teacher to clean up at the end of the day. Not necessarily. While the students LOVE those and they are worth it sometimes, celebrations can consist of just a shout out in class to Little Johnny who made his reading goal for the week! Or to Suzy Q. for finishing her 20th book of the school year. They can be a little post-it note that reads “I’m proud of you!” for someone who you know has been struggling with something in your class. Celebrations need to happen frequently.

  1. Student voices in our classrooms should be louder than ours.

Jason Reynolds, Pam Allyn, and many of the presenters that I listened to at the conference talked about student voice and allowing students to share their stories with their classmates. But Kara Belden said it best when she said that the student voices in the classroom should be louder than ours. This made me stop and think about how much time I’m giving my students to write their stories–to flesh them out and get them on the page. To give them wings and let them fly to find someone else in our class who can say, “Me too” and know they’re not alone. I need to be better about this. About giving more time, regardless of the time restraints we have. This is what really counts in the world of education.  

  1. “It’s not that young people don’t like to read. It’s that young people don’t like to be bored.”

How many times have you heard another teacher say, “He/She just doesn’t like to read. There’s nothing I can do about it if they already have their minds made up.” Jason Reynolds (and I!) beg to differ. I’m a firm believer in that if a student doesn’t like to read, it’s because he/she hasn’t found the right book yet. It’s all about finding the right books and getting them into the right hands. We are so lucky to be teaching in an age where there are so many diverse authors and topics to give our students excitement when reading. We just need to make sure we can find them the right book. Or being able to connect them with someone who can find them the right book.

  1. Share the love.

I just left a quick meeting this morning where everyone in my building who went to the lit conference got together to discuss what we learned, how and if we are applying our learning to our classrooms, and what information we would like to share with the rest of the staff. This quick little meeting forced me to revisit some of the things I heard, saw, and talked about during the conference and allowed me a space to talk with my colleagues about my learning. This. Is. Invaluable. in my humble opinion. For me, conversations about learning are where it’s at. It’s how I find most success in my classroom. It’s where I revisit my why. It’s where I find ways to celebrate student voice. It’s where humility, intimacy, and gratitude for my profession starts. And it’s why I stick with this crazy awesome, extremely hard, and unbelievably rewarding career.

I really hope we all see YOU at the next Dublin Literacy Conference on February 22, 2020!

 

Culture · Goal Setting · Reflection

Identity Revision

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I’m having an identity crisis…I think…? I mean, not really, but maybe. Yeah, I guess I am. I feel like I’m being pulled in two different directions on multiple levels–is that an identity crisis? Regardless, I’m having trouble figuring out where I’m supposed to be, what my path is, what I should be doing. In my home, in my job, in motherhood–EVERYWHERE.

This feeling first occurred to me when I moved to Ohio in July 2016. My husband and I had lived in northern Virginia for twelve years and wanted a quieter life for our one-year-old son. The hustle and bustle of the DC area started to be too much for my husband, who had to commute one and a half hours to work (one way!) every day. I got lucky and my teaching job was only 10-15 minutes away, depending on traffic, so traffic never got on my nerves unless we tried to get somewhere during rush hour. I loved Virginia, or at least I thought I did, and when we moved, Ohio was hard to get used to–new home, new job, new lifestyle, new grocery store…new everything.

I’m “older and wiser” now, and in a position where I can be reflective with my life and take a deep look into what I really want and need, as well as figure out what’s best for my family. That being said, looking back, one of the hardest transitions for me after this move was my new job.

I had been an English teacher for twelve years in Virginia. It doesn’t seem like a long time when you say it out loud, but it felt like a really long time by the time we got to Ohio. I think one of the biggest issues I had with coming to Ohio in the beginning was the fact that the English teacher part of my identity, my personality, a part that I had been forming for over twelve years and was known for, was not coming with me. There were no English teaching positions open when I applied, so I had no choice but to do something different. Luckily, I earned my gifted endorsement in 2010 (which was supposed to be my end of career, fade out plan!), so when the possibility of teaching middle school gifted came open, I decided to jump on it and get my foot in the door that way.

At first, I was excited about the possibility of teaching a new subject, if that’s what you’d even call it. Gifted is a beast unto itself and has gray areas everywhere, which is both inspiring and detrimental, depending on how you look at it. The opportunity to teach something different, to get some new and different perspectives, came hard and fast, and quite frankly, knocked the wind out of my sails. I was thrilled and ready for the challenge, but scared at the exact same time. I THRIVE on interactions with my colleagues during the day, and I’d be the only gifted teacher in the building and on the metaphorical island! What if I don’t know what I’m doing? What if the kids are smarter than I am? What if all they want to work on is MATH?? I’m not a math teacher! I’m an English teacher, faking it as a gifted teacher! Bless. What am I going to do here with these kids? My supervisor kept telling me to play to my strengths, but how can I be the best gifted teacher when my strengths consist of writing literary analysis papers and making sure the periods and commas are in the right places in an MLA formatted works cited page?

That first year was rough. I called my gifted colleague Emily literally every day. She was my lifesaver. The biggest issue I had was with the lack of lesson planning structure. I was coming from the world of Advanced Placement classes where every moment in the class was accounted for because if you lost time, students were missing out on opportunities to be successful in their reading and writing strategies that would be assessed on the exam in May. In Cog. Ed., there were no exams. No requirements, except teach students how to create, innovate, communicate, collaborate, problem solve, think critically, research, and be aware of themselves in a positive manner. Right. Ok, that should be easy…<Insert eye roll>. For someone who is used to and craves structure, this situation was a complete and utter nightmare. Thank God Emily had a handle on what she wanted things to look like and because she and I hit it off right away and share a similar teaching philosophy and background, we were able to work together to get some semblance of a structure to work with our classes, and still be able to provide the necessary freedoms the gifted students need.

While I struggled with this issue, I noticed that maybe this was what the gifted job was supposed to be teaching me–how to be flexible, how to let go of structure and really cater to what students need in the classroom. Sure, having a plan for daily learning is necessary, but being able to say, “No. We’re not going to do that today because these kiddos need something different.” is key. How many times had I wished to have extra time in my AP classes to stop the lesson, and really focus on the needs of my students, both academically and personally, as they navigate through high school? Being able to let go of that structure for my Cog. Ed. classes allowed me to really see the possibilities available for these students. We have focused on design learning, researching without restrictions, and learning about ourselves and how we work with others. Being able to do this kind of learning allowed for me to be able to take a step back and facilitate the learning instead of being in charge of it–letting the students choose how they wanted to learn instead of me telling them how they were going to learn.

After two years of teaching gifted students in a gifted setting, I have come to realize that I do love the freedom, and that there are colleagues who want to collaborate with me. I’m really very lucky–I get to push students to create, collaborate, communicate, and innovate in ways that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to try during their time in middle school. I don’t have to grade excessively. I rarely speak with parents–really only to send out our agenda for the week and answer the occasional question about the math class hierarchy or summer gifted camps. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have failed numerous times. So many I stopped counting. I would start a project with students and not finish it, I got in over my head on quite a few assignments and couldn’t follow through meaningfully so I just stopped with the project, and there were many days where students did more creativity challenges that necessary. These were lessons I needed to learn in my teaching life and struggle with in order to be better for my students. And for that, I am so grateful.  

But I keep coming back to the same few questions: Am I happy doing this job? Am I making an impact? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with my teaching life?

Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t think I’ll ever really know the answers to these questions for sure. And I don’t think anyone ever knows, especially in education. I’m just over halfway through year three of teaching gifted students and I have a tremendous amount of learning left to do (which I’m REALLY excited about!), and that means that this particular boat ride can’t be over yet. I love the challenges that my gifted students present to me daily. I love their questions and organic curiosity. I love the freedom to do what my students want to do without restriction. I love that my principal, supervisor, and colleagues trust that I’m doing my job and come to me with questions and/or help. And I love that I’m still able to use my English teaching expertise to help my students be successful in my class and their other classes, as well as expand my own learning by listening to my students and their thoughts and wonders. And who’s to say that I can’t take these learning experiences back with me to the AP English classroom one day…?

So, maybe I’m not having an identity crisis. Maybe it’s more of an identity shift or identity revision.

 

UPDATE:

Since starting this piece, I have done more soul searching and have had many conversations with colleagues, friends, and family, and have decided that my heart is still in the English/Language Arts world. A position opened up at my school to teach both 7th and 8th grade language arts, so I jumped on it and will be entering this role this coming fall. I don’t think a day will go by where I don’t use my learning experiences I gained in the gifted classroom with my language arts learners–if anything, it will help guide my instruction to better serve gifted students in reading and writing.

I’m really looking forward to this new opportunity in my career and who knows, maybe one day I’ll return to gifted, because who’s to say that gifted isn’t where my heart and soul are ALSO?

ASSESSMENT · Goal Setting · Reflection · Students

Alternate Exams: Turning Assessments Into Opportunities

Last year, our English I team made the revelatory decision to get rid of our traditional multiple-choice exam, and I will never look back.

With the help of my teammates (English I teachers at Dublin Coffman High School), Dr. Steve Kucinski (@specialkdchs) and Mrs. Shayne Bauer, I crafted this post.

The decision to change our exam was a long time coming. For years, many of us questioned and debated the validity of our district-wide multiple-choice exam, so when our district, which includes three high schools, no longer required a completely common exam and gave each high school the option to assess as they deemed appropriate or best for students, our team at Coffman High School jumped at the opportunity to do something different.

We made this decision for many reasons. Very few  English I teachers in the district could agree upon common reading passages that were appropriate for all (~1,200) of our students. Similarly, we found “difficulty in writing robust but reasonable multiple choice questions” (Dr. Kucinski). This was especially apparent when analyzing the data collected from these multiple choice exams. We continually debated the validity of the multiple questions and, therefore, our exam as a whole. Moreover, students’ grades in class after eighteen weeks of learning rarely matched their exam scores. For all of these reasons and more, our team didn’t feel that the current multiple-choice exam reflected the true abilities of our students.

While re-writing our exam, we shared many hopes:

  • We hoped that the new exam would provide the opportunity for all students to be successful.
  • We hoped that the new exam would more accurately reflect and celebrate the strengths of our students. Likewise, we hoped that it would help highlight areas in which students had room to improve.
  • We hoped that students would feel more in control of their exam score.
  • We hoped that the data gathered from the new exam would be more meaningful and easier to formulate future lessons and units from.
  • “We know that for many students, standardized tests are just a point of ‘doing school.’ As such, they merely want to survive them. We sought to change that.” – Dr. Kucinski
  • We hoped to “discourage cramming and mere memorization” – Mrs. Bauer  

Our team worked together to create what I would describe as an extended-response(written), evidence-based, reflection-heavy exam. We included in it all of the 9th grade English standards assessed throughout the first semester of the school year in addition to other questions about academic behaviors. To be frank, I do not think that our current exam is without faults. We’ve administered it three years in a row now, and we have tweaked a few questions each time based on the last year’s results. I’m sure we’ll make edits and improvements between now and giving it again next year, too. With anything new, there is uncertainty.

For students, our new exam provides these exciting and unique opportunities:

  • To reflect and practice metacognition
  • To revisit old work
  • To set future learning goals
  • To be honest about learning patterns and learning preferences as well as good and bad habits
  • To identify areas of growth and mastery as well as areas that need more practice
  • To review why we do what we do in English class  
  • “Increased awareness of standards” – Mrs. Shayne Bauer
  • “Ownership” – Dr. Steve Kucinski

Students, for the most part, appreciate the non-traditional approach and especially appreciate the week’s worth of time given to complete the exam. Though, there are a few students who ask, “Can’t we just take a test?” Students also appreciate the efficacy of knowing I can do well on this. Likewise, there is no guesswork (I don’t know what they’re going to ask me) on the exam or any double jeopardy (Well, I didn’t do well all quarter, so I’m surely not going to do well on this exam either). (Dr. Kucinski)

One of my students even took the time to email me this feedback in her free time: “I thought this year’s midterm was well made and smartly scheduled. It was not as stressful as other exams. I liked that it made you reflect on what happened in the first half of the year. I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to reading and writing… I would like more exams like this.”

At this point, you probably just want to see the exam. Here it is:

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And here are some student responses:

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Surprising Findings:

  • What students identify as their weaknesses (versus what we teachers identify)
  • What students are most proud of
  • Students fessing up to being lazy
  • Students not knowing where to find feedback and rubric scores on Schoology (LMS)
  • Students not understanding weighted grades and the distinction between the different grading categories we use
  • Students struggling to articulate what and how they’ve learned and where their deficits are (Dr. Kucinski)
  • Students not being okay with saying ‘I didn’t learn everything’ or ‘I don’t know how I know this’ (Dr. Kucinski)

Obviously, we know this exam is non-traditional. We’re curious to know what other educators think about it. Maybe you think this is a downright awful idea. This exam works for us, but could this ever be an assessment in your classroom?

Goal Setting · Leading · Teacher Leadership

Expert … or Specialist?

This fall Beth and I spent a Saturday learning with Kristin Ziemke. Our district is in the process of becoming one-to-one in grades six through twelve and I have been thinking a lot about what blended learning looks in the HS ELA reading and writing workshop. When we noticed that the Literacy Connection was bringing Kristin to the area we decided to join, even though the workshop was marketed for K-6 teachers (another post coming soon related to this).

While I learned so much about purposeful leveraging of technology from Kristin (hopefully yet another post will be coming), what I have been thinking most about is this idea of expert or specialist and her description of these two terms. Kristin described an expert as “someone who knows it all” and a specialist as “someone who believes the learning is never done but wants to know all they can.” What a difference in mindset!

I want others to think of me as a specialist, but do I present as an expert? And if I do present as expert how does that impact others’ abilities to learn? I am writing as a literary coach, so I am thinking about adult learners, but I also think this applies to the learning that happens in our classrooms. If a teacher sees herself as a specialist and not as an expert how does this impact student learning?

Some things I will commit to to ensure that I remain a specialist:

  • Read a wide variety of research about literacy, especially HS literacy
  • Question this reading and align it to my core beliefs about learning
  • Listen to others with a truly open-mind
  • Consistently share my new learning
  • Talk about failure
  • Be flexible
  • Look for the happiness and joy in literacy learning
  • Value the questions of others
Goal Setting · Reflection

#2019onelittleword…continued

Kara’s word: Write

On January 1st, when I started to see others’ words of intent, I acted like I hadn’t yet decided on mine. I scoured the internet for ideas and made a list 24 words long – words like “brave,” “ritual,” “simplify,” “less,” “love,” “vulnerable,” “confidence,” and “imagine.” I pretended like they were all under serious consideration.

I could sit here and explain how tough it was to decide on this year’s #onelittleword, but I would be lying to you because I’ve been lying to myself. I scrolled through instagram viewing other people’s words of intent, convinced that I should find something different. I don’t mean unique. I was looking for a word other than the one that has been slowly but surely, year after year, growing in my soul but consistently silenced by my mind.

I am a mother, a wife, a teacher, and a reader, and I want to be a writer. Only a few people know this last bit about me. Heck, it’s taken me awhile to know this about myself.

This presents many problems: I don’t know exactly what that looks like in my life. I don’t know what kind of writing to do or what to write about. I don’t know where or how writing will fit into my already busy life, and I definitely don’t know what it’ll take for me to confidently add “writer” to my identity.

What I do know is this – writers write.

Therefore, I have to start somewhere. This is it. This is the year. I am going to stop talking myself out of writing.

I don’t have time.

I have more important things on my plate.

And the worst of all:  

I don’t have anything to say.

So, this is my word. It’s scary, and I have doubts, and I’m going to face setbacks, and some people just won’t get it, but I’m going to push on. Sometimes my writing will be made public, and sometimes it’ll remain personal. I want to explore, to feel, to reflect, to connect. It’s going to be a huge challenge to build a habit of writing, but I’m serious about finding its purpose in my life and nurturing this little passion of mine. This year, I write.  

Emily’s word: Single-task

At the top of the list of strengths on my old resume, you’ll find it. I bragged about it for years. Wore it as a badge of honor. And, felt the sting of guilt when I didn’t engage with it enough. What is it, you ask? It’s my ability to multitask. “Oh, you won’t BELIEVE how many things I can do at the same time, while also entertaining 25 little humans! I am the QUEEN of multitasking.” (insert crown emoji)

I’m here to tell you that in 2019, I am breaking up with multitasking. We had an interesting run. Like most relationships, there were butterflies in the beginning. Multitasking was charming. It made promises of a future I could have only dreamed of: wild productivity! I was able to keep up with the Jones’s and put PInteresters to shame. But, after a couple decades, I just wasn’t happy anymore. Multitasking and I were growing apart. We wanted different things.

I am thrilled to introduce my new flame, single-task living. As easy as it sounds (after all, balancing on one leg is significantly easier than balancing on one leg while hula hooping and reciting the alphabet backwards, right?!), focusing solely on one task is nearly impossible for me. I’ve been refining the skill of doing more than one thing for the majority of my adult life.  Whether it be household chores, doing work for school, eating, or managing my social life – I was addicted to finding ways to be more “productive” in a shorter amount of time. The multitasker’s high is no joke!

What I have learned though, through our tumultuous relationship, is that multitasking is not only impossible, but damaging to my productivity and my attention. In the past, I’ve dedicated my yearly intentions to being more present. The struggle was real. I could not for the life of me master being present in the moment. Ever the problem solver, I decided to dig closer to the root of the issue – turns out my propensity to do as many things as possible at one time was keeping me from grounding myself in the present moment. Major facepalm!

I will not lie to you. I do not have a purposeful plan of how I am going to approach this one little word in 2019. I’ve picked up a few strategies and skills from the books and podcasts that have inspired me to let multitasking go – none of which have worked yet. However, like many of my co-collaborators, I feel empowered just saying this word! It feels, oddly, like starting a new relationship – with that awkward, yet hopeful, beginning. I know that I will undoubtedly slip and go back to multitasking here and there; my breakups have never been clean. But, the proof is in the pudding and all my research supports that it’s time to move on. In 2019, I will seek to be a happy and productive single-tasker!

Lindsey’s word(s): Be present

I’ve always been a rule follower, but if the rules don’t match what I need them to, I like to bend them a bit to make them fit. Hence my One Little Word(s) for 2019: be present. I was going to go with the word “aware,” but it just didn’t fit for me. Being aware is different from being present. Being aware doesn’t mean I’m engaged in what’s happening. The word “present” seems more active to me, if you will.

My goal for 2019 is to be present in my classroom, in my relationships with people, and with my family. At school, my brain feels like it has 50 billion browsers open at all times, so it’s hard to focus and be present for my learners at all times. I plan to be better at shutting the browsers and focusing on the here and now. I want to be able to fully focus on the small group I’m working with, rather than barely listening because I am thinking about the next small group I need to meet with.

My relationships with my friends and my colleagues are extremely important to me, and fostering those relationships feeds my soul. I want to be present and listen more, and not be quick to have a response. I want to be able to ask more questions. I want my favorite people to know I care about them and that my mind is on them when we are together.

Lastly, I want to be present for my family. Often times I find myself getting home from school and having a lot to do around the house–vacuuming, folding laundry, prepping dinner, or even thinking about things I need to do the next day at school. When that happens, my husband and I will divide and conquer, handing our son the iPad and working to get it all done. This is definitely not being present. My focus needs to be on my husband and son, not everything else. While I absolutely can’t just stop doing laundry, I can absolutely better balance my time and find a different time to do the laundry so I can be spending week nights with David and Holden.

There will be times of failure, but I’m hoping to at least focus more on the people and things that mean the most to me. So, here’s to being present in 2019!

Corinne’s word: Balance

New Year’s resolutions are an enigma for me. I understand their purpose and since I am a goal setter, I never have had any difficulty coming up with a meaningful list of resolutions.  The mysterious part of the process is committing to my new habits over the long haul. In fact, I can’t remember a year when I have had the resolve to stick to my goals through January.

2019 is going to be different. Not because I will be more motivated or I am stronger, but because I have changed by perspective. Don’t get me wrong. Personal and professional goal setting is in my DNA, but what I’ve found I really need is balance. Giving myself the grace to make mistakes, take a night off from work as a principal, or eat a piece of pie may refresh me enough to follow through on what really matters, a healthy mind and body…Balance.

Over the coming days and weeks, I will strive to be my best, but I will also not be so hard on myself when I don’t meet my goals. I may not be as fit or well-read as I had hoped, but I will be happier. And- that is all I really need…Balance.

Melissa’s word: Perspective

It’s funny how the simple declaration of one little word can be so powerful. Over the past three years, I have had surprising success making positive changes in my life by declaring one little word as my focus for the year. While many struggle to keep a New Year’s resolution longer than a couple of months, I find the commitment to one little word to be a good fit for me.

This year, however, I found myself more aware of the weight this word would carry throughout the year; I knew from experience, I would undoubtedly be challenged by this one word as its layers of meaning were gradually peeled back, affecting more of my life than I originally thought. So, this year it took me several days to make up my mind.

Like many, I wear a variety of hats in the course of a day: wife, mother, daughter, friend, teacher, colleague. I fashion each of these hats I wear a little differently, and I try my best to wear them all with style. But some days I fall short. Some days, I have so much to do and rush from one thing to the next, that I find myself literally out of breath. Most nights, I’m snoring on the couch by 8pm. It’s exhausting.

It’s ridiculous to live life this way, so I am promising myself to put things in better perspective this year.

Somehow I have allowed all the little, unimportant things multiply and take over my time. If I am honest, I think I have justified this takeover by believing that all these things I do are for the people I care about. The reality is, my family would much rather have me spend more uninterrupted time with them instead of doing things for them.

Professionally, I have fallen into the trap of concentrating on the one thing that went wrong instead of the many things that went right on any given day. I have justified this by calling it “reflection” when the reality is, it is flawed thinking. Why am I robbing myself of joy of teaching? In 2019, I will celebrate the small things and keep the challenges in perspective. I will quiet my brain at the end of the day, enjoy the stillness of my empty classroom, and appreciate the growth that has taken place.

Changing my perspective isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a mind shift, and I’m going to have to accept some checkboxes are going to be left unchecked. Still, I think a change in perspective is a positive adjustment I can make in 2019.

Kris’ word: Plot twist

Okay, so I cheated. If we really want to get technical, this is two words. However, hear me out. Life is so full of twists and turns, and sometimes those twists and turns are so twisty and so turn-y that it can be overwhelming.  So as not to get caught up in being overwhelmed or within the chaos that can, really, let’s be honest, make us crazy, I choose to call out in my head “plot twist.”

Yes, life is full of chaos. Early morning wake-ups, early morning meetings, early morning jousting with the copier that always seems to break when it’s my turn. Plot Twist. Time to go use the projector, a computer screen and half sheets of paper.

Afternoon lunches that are 10 minutes long because it takes me ten minutes to get down to the teacher’s lounge, three minutes to heat my leftovers, 10 minutes of catching up with friends, eating and then sprinting back to your classroom only to find that your projector is flashing on and off on and off for no apparent reason. Plot twist. Time to use half sheets of paper and a white board.

After school  meetings for clubs, getting home to get my children to their respective activities, and my dinner that I had planned and sounded so delicious and made me salivate all the way home was actually a Pinterest classic that took eight hours in the crock pot and not 10 minutes in the InstaPot like I thought. Plot twist. Time for Cane’s Chicken.

In the middle of the chaos, the horrible no good bad day, actually stopping and saying “plot twist” can redirect my day. No kidding, it really can. Because it is my belief that after plot twists, an awesome and memorable day can occur. Because as we know from the books and movies plot twists can be the. best. part. They can produce the greatest teachable moments. They can produce the most creative outcomes. They can produce memorable pieces of life that you may not have otherwise had. They can be the good stuff that takes you from good to great. 

It is easy to get caught up in the chaos. To get caught up in the “seriously?”. To get caught up in that day or week or month or year or years (for that matter) that just seem to keep coming at me. It’s easy to feel scooped up into that tornado of a million things life throws at me. But I won’t, no, I refuse to let it get me down. I’m going to plot twist the heck out of this year. 

Friends, I hope you will join me in the joy of the plot twist, the magic that turns that Terrible Tuesday into something you didn’t see coming when you first hit that alarm.

Rachel’s word: Focus

I struggled to come up with a word because I wanted to sound sophisticated and reflective, but I ended up setting on something a little more basic. My one word for 2019 is focus. I chose this word because I tend to have a hard time focusing on the task at hand, and I often have a million other things that I’m thinking about as I’m doing something. I believe that if I can just give myself the grace to focus on whatever I’m doing, I can get much more accomplished, and do so with better results.

I need to let things go if they are not important, and use my time to focus on meaningful activities and interactions. This doesn’t mean that everything I’m doing may count as “productive,” but should feel right for me. Maybe my focus is relaxation when I’m at home on the weekend and want to watch Netflix. But when I do that, I want to focus on what I’m doing — watching a show — and not checking Facebook or my email.

Focus” for me also means putting down my phone more. I am too quick to jump on social media, and I have moved those icons to a separate screen on my phone to make it less of a habit. Because I often feel scatterbrained, it also takes me a long time to get started on a given task, so I believe trying to focus on one thing at a time will help me work on that as well.


Goal Setting · Reflection

#2019OneLittleWord

Beth’s word: connect

This is the fifth year that I’ve chosen a word to be my focus for the year. I struggled and went back and forth between several words this year (even as I write this I feel myself wavering). But, “connect” is a word that exemplifies several of my goals for 2019.

In my professional life, connecting is one of my main priorities as I work with teachers across the school district – some of whom I’ve not known well. My hope is that by building connections that trust and rapport follow so that we can have conversations about student learning. I am enjoying this new role that allows me to get to know colleagues who value reading and writing and who love working with middle school students.

I feel as if I’ve lost some of my connection to my fitness self. I’d like to get back to my yoga practice and to meditation. In 2018, I let other things get in my way and keep me from being fit and flexible. I miss the calm, powerful feeling of walking out of a studio or off my yoga mat.

Finally, with a daughter in college and one who is starting to think about that step, I want to continue to connect with them so that our relationships stay strong. I can always work on keeping strong connections to friends and family – both far and near as well.

Lori’s word: intentional

This past year was sprinkled with personal chaos and professional priorities that at times pulled me away from what is important in life.  For 2019, I am committing to be more intentional with my time, energy and love as I refocus on the work and life balance ahead.

In my office, this will mean using each moment of my day to be intentional about serving the people that matter most in my work, our students.  I want to be increasingly intentional about choices and decisions so that we can continually be better at educating and supporting students.  I will also be intentional with my time, making sure that I am keeping focused on forward motion and change that will be positive for my work and the work of my close colleagues.  Through this work, I will intentionally be joyful.

In my home, I will be intentional to be present, focused, and flexible at home with my children.  I will model a more healthy approach (I may have eaten away my stress in 2018.) to dealing with our lovely, chaotic, and busy life.  I will be intentional in fostering the relationships with my husband, my children and my parents.  I will live with intentional focus on family.

In my free time, I will be intentional in spending quality time with my closest, dearest friends.  2018 reminded me of how important friendships are and that they need a little nourishment from time to time.  I will serve my friends in the way that they serve and support me.

Here’s to a more intentional 2019!

Rita’s word: forward

Determining a word for this year was a bit of a challenge. A few words bounced around in my head, but none felt completely right. Eventually, I noticed that the words were connected; each would lead me forward.

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my most fit self. I have drifted from the commitment to my health. As I look forward I know that I can find my way back to healthy eating, mindfulness and consistent yoga practice. I am excited to rediscover the confidence, calm, peace and strength that I believe truly define fitness.  

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my happiest self. I am committing to prioritize things that bring joy. I often allow myself to get bogged down in the “business” of life and overlook the joy. I will be fully present and enjoy time with family and friends. I will reflect, pray and slow down to ensure that everything forward is filled with happiness.

This year I want to make choices that move me forward to my bravest self. I will take advantage of all opportunities for learning and growth. I will embrace situations that push me outside of my comfort zone. I will listen to learn and not avoid difficult conversations. I will allow my true north to guide me forward and lean into the courage this provides me.

2019 will be a year of happily moving forward!

Goal Setting · Reflection · Teaching

Getting Unstuck

Happy New Year! The time for resolutions! Right?

Maybe.

By the time second semester hits, I’m usually feeling two conflicting things simultaneously: a new spark of hope for the future and a stinging realization that I have gotten stuck in certain habits.

Last week when we returned to school after winter break, I was ready. Kids were going to find books they love for our independent reading days! My new strange and mysterious short story unit would engage and excite students!

Then I realized I still had more than 100 narratives to grade. Then we had a snow day. And then I came down with the stomach flu and missed two more days. Then we had an early dismissal due to an incoming winter storm. Things started to feel out. Of. Control.

Needless to say, my new semester wasn’t starting off with the bang I was hoping for.

After the chaos of the first two weeks back to school, I need to get myself and my teaching in order. So this weekend, I am dedicating myself to getting unstuck. There are four things I am going to focus on to help me in this process.

#1: Catch Up

With all of the craziness of this past week, I realized that I still had about 20 narratives left to grade, along with new assignments that students turned in this week. My first order of business will be to get these graded. I know that I cannot always be on top of my grading pile, but it’s manageable enough right now that I can tackle it over this holiday weekend and get it finished. This will help me to feel a sense of calm when I walk into school on Tuesday morning, ready to focus on the week ahead, instead of looking behind to what I didn’t do.

#2: Refresh New Procedures

Much of this will have to happen once I get back into the classroom next week, but I am going to start this weekend by creating a new seating chart. I want to try randomized seating so students have a chance to sit by other kids they may not know so well, while also helping with classroom management. I tend to be a little lax in seating and let kids sit where they want, but it’s turned into a bit of chaos in certain classes and lending to this feeling that I am “stuck” constantly redirecting. When students come back this week, I’ll refresh procedures such as how to put the laptops away correctly. How to pick up after yourself. I feel like I shouldn’t have to do this with 8th graders, but if I don’t show that it’s an important expectation (like I haven’t been doing), then the students won’t see it that way either.

#3: Setting the Intention to Be Reflective

I am really good at being reflective for short periods of time. Last year I dedicated a whole journal to reflecting every day…and then wrote in it five times. This year, I am going to try again. Maybe not with a specific journal, but perhaps in spurts. As I was reading NCTE’s Voices from the Middle December 2017 issue, I came across the article “How to Think, Talk, and Write Your Way into Better Teaching*” by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell. The first thing they list in this article is to “choose a notebook” as a catchall for all teaching-related notes and reflection. When I have done something like this in the past, I have been successful. Somehow, it’s gotten away from me this year and I want to go back. This may not only be about reflection, but it will play a part in my intention to be reflective. Also, writing this blog post, and continuing to write is another way I vow to be reflective this year.

#4: Planning Goals (or at least thinking about it)

I want to try new things. I want to be inspired. I want to make time to learn from others, either in person or from educators who write about their experiences. In the first half of the year, I dove into professional development a little too deep, and started to drown. In December, I took a step back, let myself breathe, and trusted myself to do my best. Now that I have taken that step back, I’m ready to dip my toe in again. I returned to browsing Twitter last week to see what people are thinking – about education and otherwise. It’s not such a bad place after all. I picked up a quick professional book to start reading this weekend – Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst – because I know their thinking will help spark ideas in me. I also know that anything I read in this book is something I will be able to start working into my classroom immediately. This is a starting point for me to think about planning new units, or trying something new within an existing unit.

My main goal after all of this is just to feel a little better about who I am as a teacher. What is my purpose, and how I am I being intentional about my teaching practices? I may not always have everything under control, but when I have the time, I want to pause and be productive moving forward. Hopefully after this weekend I will feel a little less stuck and ready to move again.

Goal Setting · Reflection

One Little Word

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Several years ago, Rita and I (Beth) discovered the “one word” movement. We decided to use it with our students as a way to focus and set a goal for the new year. It’s different than setting a resolution that can easily be broken, and we found that it had more relevance and meaning for students. It also gives one a chance to reflect on the past year and to see if/where changes can be made. At the start of the new year, we thought we would share each of our #onelittleword2018 as a way to recharge the blog.

 

Beth’s word: Gratitude

2017 brought many changes and opportunities for me. I was blessed with a new teaching partner, my older daughter was accepted to several colleges (a decision hasn’t been made), we said goodbye to my mother-in-law, and I expanded my personal yoga practice to include becoming a certified yoga teacher. The year was also fraught with struggles and uncertainty.

In 2018, I want to focus on gratitude. There are so many things in my life to be thankful for and to develop. I am lucky to have a tribe of teachers who are beginning and developing their yoga practice on Friday afternoons with me, and I am so grateful for their trust and commitment. As an educator, I am blessed with a strong learning community and with mentors who can help me continue to grow and learn. While trying to develop as a writer, I feel appreciative of the suggestions and feedback provided by this group of women. Finally, I am surrounded by a family who loves and supports me in every endeavor I try. I especially feel grateful for my older daughter and the adventure she will embark on this year.

There are times when gratitude isn’t easy to “find”, but my plan for the new year is to always look for the positive in situations and to remember to be grateful for what I have. I am truly blessed and hope to be a person who others see as one filled with peace and thankfulness.

 

Rita’s word: Faith

I have been thinking about my #onelittleword2018 since the middle of December. 2017 was a year of change and challenge and I was searching for the perfect word to guide me through 2018. As I opened my present during the Bannan family Christmas exchange, there it was at the top of the beautiful bracelet my sister-in-law chose for me.

2018 will be a year of faith. I will have faith in the OSU James Cancer Hospital doctors (and their positive prognosis) as they treat my mom’s Multiple Myeloma with chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant and am so excited for her to be feeling better soon! I will have faith in the constant support of my people and heed their reminders to take care of myself in the midst of caring for others. I will have faith in my family and remember that the hard times are often the times that bind us together. And finally, I will have faith in myself and I will continue to be successful in my journey to a more healthy me – both physically and mentally.

Faith makes all things possible…” (Dwight L. Moody) I am so excited for all of the possibilities that 2018 holds!

 

Rachel’s word: Unwind

I have noticed recently that even when I have a little down time, I am not able to fully let myself unwind and relax. Teaching can be stressful and I tend to let little (and sometimes big) problems consume me at all times, even when I’m home. I dwell on moments, or things I should have said, or what I could do to be better. Growth and reflection are important, but I let anxiety take hold instead of finding a positive way of moving forward. I am attempting to leave work at work, and unwind when I am at home to focus on self-care and personal growth goals. I need to take care of myself so I am in better shape to take care of those around me, including my family and my students.

To help me achieve the goal to unwind, I have started a bullet journal as a place where I can track parts of my day as well as other things that are important to me: books read, time spent crafting, meditation, and my marathon training. Since I am running my first marathon this year, I am going to need to find time to relax and unwind  from the stress that training will take on my body. I plan on leaning into hobbies I enjoy, like knitting and reading, and using my time most effectively at school so that I can come home and (hopefully) feel guilt-free.

 

Lori’s word: Joy

Today, as I think about a new year and new opportunities in family, faith and education, I am thinking about joy.  There is no doubt that this fall was a crazy one in my household.  We have a 1st grader and 3rd grader who are active and getting more involved in their own things.  My husband and I  are both educators and I started a new job in administration this year.  This means new responsibilities, new challenges, new work hours and routines.  At times, as my family adjusted to our new “pace”, it seemed hectic, fun and unsettling all at once.  As December approached, the Christmas season reminded me to be grounded in Him and find joy in all aspects of life.

As we enter 2018, I pledge to find joy in all that I do.  I will find joy at work and at home. I will find joy in comfortable and uncomfortable situations.  I will find joy in calm and in busy.  I will find joy in my children, my family and my friends.    I will find joy even when the world seems unjoyful.  I will recognize that joy comes from within me and I will model that for my children.  I know that joy will not always come easy, but that it will provide peace and appreciation for this wonderful phase of life.

 

Corinne’s word: Discipline

As I enter the twilight of my first career, I am getting closer to the dawn of my new one.  2018 brings the challenge of figuring out just where and how I will experience that dawn! I have made brainstorm lists, and had many conversations with my family and friends.  Unfortunately, up to this very moment, I have no idea what my next steps will be.  

Since I wasn’t blessed with patience, I recently enrolled in a ministry leadership class, hoping that the experience would give me the inspiration, the discipline and the structure I need to hear what God has in store for me. One of my assignments for the month is reading a book entitled, The Real Deal, and my most recent reading happened to be about having the discipline to listen for God to lead me in the direction He has chosen for me. What an important and affirming assignment. Anyone who knows me well knows that listening and waiting are difficult and that I will need to tap into my most disciplined self, but I am trying.  Tomorrow is the first day of my new routine, one that will require me to have the discipline to rise early enough to exercise, clear my mind, and open my ears before I begin the busy day at school.

I am waiting and grateful for the opportunity of #onelittleword2018.  It provided me the chance to make my routine public and to challenge myself.  One thing I know for sure is that I love a challenge!

 

Kara’s word: Play

“You play, you win, you play, you lose. You play. It’s the playing that’s irresistible. Dicing from one year to the next with the things you love, what you risk reveals what you value.” – Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

This passage of my all-time favorite book struck a chord with me years ago, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. I can apply it to many aspects of my life, but I can especially apply it to teaching. To me, it means that all of life is made up of one decision after another. You can stay the same by folding and playing it safe, or you can take a risk. Simply playing is unavoidable, but weighing risks and imagining rewards is invigorating!

Teaching is like this — one decision after another. Is everything ready for tomorrow’s lesson? Do I need to make any changes based on how it went today? What about next week? Next month? Next Semester? Will I teach that content and those skills the same way that I did last year? What needs to stay? What needs to go? Is there a way that I can teach this better? Weighing the risks and rewards of making changes inspires me. Play keeps me energized.

Is trying new things a lot of work? Absolutely. Do I get worn down? Sometimes. Am I flirting with burnout? Hopefully not, but honestly, maybe. My point is this: students are worth risks. And as overwhelming research proves, children learn through play. I’m sure adults do, too, so students deserve teachers who keep playing. I’d rather risk burnout, knowing that I’m trying my absolute hardest to be the best teacher that I can possibly be, than fold.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the temptation is strong to turn on autopilot and coast, but who reaps the rewards of that? So I keep asking myself these questions: What if? What if I could make this better? Teach this better? Do this better? In 2018, I intend to play.

Goal Setting · Leading · Reflection · Students · Teaching

New Year’s Resolutions: Goal Setting to Ensure Work-Life Balance

Balance

It’s that time of year!

(and I’m not talking about the winter holidays)

If you work in the education sector like me, August is when the “new” year begins, and it’s the month that holds the most promise for change. Hopefully due to taking the time to temporarily power down and recharge over the summer, it’s probably also the month that you feel the most energy to make changes happen. And if you’re anything like me, as you’re rebooting for the upcoming school year, your mind is constantly racing with thoughts such as, “This year is going to be my best year yet! I’m going to do this differently… and this differently… and this… and this…”

I’ll admit that I’ve earned a reputation at Coffman for being a “yes-woman.” I’m the type of person that is inspired by new ideas and driven by change. I’m the type of person who will try anything if I think it will benefit my students’ learning. I have a hard time saying “no” when asked to lead or advise a student group/club. When approached by like-minded colleagues who love to “take a risk,”  my standard answer is “Let’s do it!” I once stayed up until 3AM creating a new grammar lesson for the next day simply because I was introduced to Pear Deck the day before.

Some of this I’m proud of. I want to be a teacher who isn’t afraid to make a change if it is what’s best for students. I’m actually really proud of many of the changes that we’ve made in the five years that I’ve been teaching English I and Honors English I. Looking back, though, I know that staying up until 3AM to use some new technology that I’ve stumbled upon is pretty silly.

I’m entering my 6th year of teaching, and though I’m inspired to make important changes and am as confident as ever that I’m about to have my best year yet, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the energizer bunny (at least not any more). I’ve also learned a LOT about work-life balance because a lot has changed in five years; I’m now married and have a house, a dog, and two daughters. Because “life” happens, I’ve been forced to come to terms with the fact that I can’t be super-teacher, AND super-mom, AND super-wife, which has been difficult because I want to be it all and do it all well. Every single day, I continue to learn how to navigate these three roles with balance and grace.

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer reflecting on my first five years of teaching. Most of all, I just keep thinking about how many of us know (but may be too stubborn to admit it) that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. So, my “New Year’s Resolution” is to be intentional with my time, and I’ve come up with 3 goals to ensure that I am.

Here they are:

GOAL #1:

I promise to provide time to my students for meaningful reflection on a weekly basis.

I’ve created this goal based on my current levels of confidence within the workshop model. This is one of those changes referenced above that I’m especially proud of  (our team has switched to and embraced the workshop model). This is important to note, as I’m sure that learning how to be especially intentional with my time each class period has simultaneously inspired me to be intentional with the time I spend throughout the day and outside of school, too. In order to limit my lessons to 15 minutes or less, I constantly reflect on these questions: what is truly important for students to learn? How can I make the most of every second of my instructional time? If students only have 25-30 minutes to practice, how should they use each minute?

Last year, I focused on keeping my mini-lessons mini to make time for meaningful practice, but I still struggle with the reflection piece. We often run right to the bell, and when I do remember to stop class with a few minutes left, the reflection that I’ve come up with often feels forced and inauthentic; therefore, if I’m being truthful, I haven’t found much value in this part the workshop model yet. I’m not giving up on it because I know that reflecting is such an invaluable step in the learning process. When expressing these challenges to a colleague this summer, she suggested that I just take baby steps and commit to making time to reflect with students once a week rather than every day. What a brilliant idea! So, my initial idea is to make 15-20 minutes on Fridays sacred to reflecting (but if the day of the week must change, I am flexible, which is why I wrote my goal above to state “on a weekly basis”). I’m looking forward to this flexibility, and I’m not overwhelmed because we will have plenty to reflect on during any given week.

 

GOAL #2:

I will sweat at least twice a week.

I know this one sounds weird, but hear me out. I HATE to sweat. I always have. I do not enjoy exercising. If you know me, you know this, and therefore, you also know that this is a BIG deal because you know that this is twice as often as I’ve ever worked out in the past. I wrote my goal to say “sweat” because I feel better after (I don’t feel good about it before or during) sweating, and I swear my food even tastes better! My aversion to sweating aside, this one will be difficult for me to achieve because every time I try to get out of the house so that I can actually exercise, I think about all of the other things I should probably do instead.

I obviously know that this goal has huge physical health benefits, but to me, this personal goal is more about mental health. I’m clearly self-aware and reflective and have learned that it is so very important for me to make time for myself. I’m moderately confident that I’ll be successful in mastering this goal because my sister recently inspired me to try System of Strength with her, and I am now addicted to their “ebb and flo”(hot yoga) classes. My addiction comes from sweating + meditation + sweating + challenge + sweating + time to myself. Did I mention that it’s HOT?

It has taken me years to believe it, but I deserve to give this time to myself. As one of my all-time favorite sayings goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”

 

GOAL #3:

I will read to or with my daughter every evening.

This should be the easiest, but if I’m being totally honest, sticking to this goal worries me the most. First of all, let’s talk logistics. This is a daily goal, which I’m just not sure will actually be possible. Like, what if I’m traveling without her? Logistics aside, I have now officially committed to playing a part in the bedtime routine every. single. night. The thought of this alone is pretty overwhelming and exhausting.

Some of the reasons behind this goal are obvious. I’m an English teacher. Of course I want to instill a love of reading in my children. The gift of literacy is undoubtedly invaluable, but for me, this goal goes beyond all of that. Most of my fondest memories related to reading involve my dad, a backyard hammock, and hours of time spent together. My parents are divorced, and I didn’t get to see my dad often, so that time was precious to me. I equated this activity to a direct reflection of my dad’s love for me.

Because of this, it breaks my heart that when Delaney asks if we can read some books together, I sometimes struggle internally to say “yes.” I don’t like that I’ve busied my life so much that I feel like I don’t have the time to read to my daughter. One day I do want my daughter to recognize that I’ve found a job that I’m so passionate about, a job that I truly believe is one of the most important in the world, but that time isn’t now. She’s three years old. She doesn’t understand, and she shouldn’t have to, so this goal is as simple as saying, “YES” every single time she asks me to read to her.

Another one of my favorite quotes inspired this goal, and I think it is especially applicable to teachers and fellow workaholics: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa

Time. It’s life’s most precious commodity. Time given to students. Time given to family. Time given to yourself. How are you going to be intentional with the time you spend this year?